Politics & Policy

How Morning Joe Morphed into Mean Girls

Morning Joe hosts Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough (MSNBC/YouTube)

I’ve long admitted I watch Morning Joe fairly regularly. The tone is typically better-suited to mornings, and it’s mostly news-junkie stuff without the viral videos and “you won’t believe what this mom posted on Facebook” stories.

Until recently at least, I found it particularly useful to watch because Joe Scarborough — a normally affable and entertaining guy — is to the right of the conventional wisdom, which forces most of his conventionally liberal guests to compensate by digging a little deeper to defend their CW thinking. The result is that you get a better understanding of liberal MSM conventional wisdom than you would if they all just spouted their talking points and left it at that.

But I increasingly find the show unwatchable.

Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski have taken to insufferable gloating about their prescience and condescending snootiness aimed at anyone or anything that might disrupt the Trump narrative they’ve bought into and helped to create. When it comes to the presidential race, the set of Morning Joe increasingly resembles the mean-girls table at the high-school cafeteria.

When a presidential candidate attacks Trump or simply proves inconvenient to Trump’s campaign, the response from the mean girls is typically, “Oh no she didn’t!” Mika Brzezinski’s favorite reactions to any suggestion that criticism of Trump will stick to him include eye rolls, poses of shock and disgust, and sarcastic bewilderment. Scarborough, meanwhile, loves to rehearse all the past times people said Trump was doomed and pretend in mock seriousness that this time he really is toast. The upshot is always the same: Nothing touches the Donald.

Mika Brzezinski’s favorite reactions to any suggestion that criticism of Trump will stick to him include eye rolls, poses of shock and disgust, and sarcastic bewilderment.

This is a key distinction. You don’t get in much trouble with the Morning Joe crew for criticizing Donald Trump, so long as you keep it low-energy. What earns you pushback is any suggestion that Trump can be vanquished. You can call Trump a racist or a fool, but don’t you dare suggest his racism or foolishness will cost him with voters!

Scarborough knows what a lot of people in Washington have been slow to learn: Trump doesn’t care what you say about his views, statements, and positions, so long as you describe him as a winner — in the polls and in life.

It’s a strange kind of worshipfulness that’s easy to misread. The ancient gods of, say, Norse and Greek mythology had flaws. They were prone to jealousy and vanity — and it was okay to say so. You could still be a faithful disciple of Thor or Zeus so long as you also praised their strength and power and feared their wrath. That’s how it is with Trump. He doesn’t care what you think about his ideas — because he doesn’t either. He cares deeply about being described as a winner.

For instance, Scarborough and Brzezinski insist they’re not in the tank for Trump. I think this is . . . untrue. Yet their defense has superficial plausibility according to the normal rules of politics, because they have in fact criticized Trump for some of his comments in the past. How can we be in the tank if we’ve called his KKK comments “disqualifying”!?  

Well, think about that for a second. If his comments were disqualifying, shouldn’t Trump be disqualified from being president? Good luck finding any suggestion that Scarborough and Brzezinski actually think that should be the case.

#share#And that has been Morning Joe’s great gift to Trump. By constantly pushing the narrative that Trump is unstoppable, that he’s “in a different league,” that he’s inevitable and on the right side of history, and, most importantly, that substantive criticisms of Trump just don’t matterMorning Joe (and a great many others in the media) has been making in-kind donations to his campaign. The Morning Joe crowd and others hide behind their transitory and evanescent criticisms of Trump as proof they are being objective, all the while insisting that such criticisms are irrelevant because Trump is the fleshy manifestation of an Idea Whose Time Has Come.

Thus, any efforts or stratagems designed to stop Trump are the stuff of desperate establishmentarians and incompetent hacks. Indeed, they gussy up all of this celebrity- and power-worship with claims that Trump has “tapped into” something real and important. He’s given voice to the voiceless white working class — never mind that, by their own admission, the voice Trump’s imparting to them is “disqualfying.”

And that brings me to this morning. The mean girls were at their bitchiest today because Ted Cruz dared to go out and talk to some Trump-supporting protestors. Mika was making faces and shaking her head over the whole episode the way a high-school Queen Bee might when the bespectacled president of the knitting club stands up to make an announcement at lunchtime. Scarborough literally succumbed to a giggle fit. Did Cruz really think he could persuade the Trump supporter? How could he think this was a good idea?

I thought what Cruz did was fine, even admirable. It was also risky and went on too long. But the notion that what Cruz did was politically idiotic is itself what’s idiotic here. First of all, the point of engaging the protester wasn’t to convince the protester — it was to convince the convincible viewers of the video. If I debate a crazy leftist on a college campus, the goal isn’t to persuade my opponent, it’s to persuade the audience.

Moreover, Cruz has done this many times before. Bill Clinton engaged protestors and was celebrated for it. So did Ronald Reagan. And you know that if Trump did something like this, the response on Morning Joe would be rapturous applause (particularly since we all know Trump is incapable of the kind of reasoned and civil debate Cruz conducted). Cruz is in a bad place, and he is doing everything he can to change the dynamic on the ground in Indiana. The response from the cool kids? “What a loser!”

But what really infuriates me is that these people have been saying for months that Donald Trump is succeeding because no other politicians take his constituency seriously. The establishment takes the white working class for granted. They don’t treat them like adults. Etc. Well, here comes Cruz and he does exactly that. He shows this lunkhead protester a level of respect and courtesy he doesn’t deserve and addresses the issues he cares about seriously and maturely — and the response from Morning Joe is giggles and insults. I was almost expecting Mika to say, “Ted Cruz needs to stop trying to make ‘fetch’ happen.”

Jonah Goldberg — Jonah Goldberg holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute and is a senior editor of National Review. His new book, The Suicide of The West, is on sale now.

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